Programs at the Rothko Chapel

Selected highlights from projects and programs organized and produced as Program Coordinator at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX.

All photos courtesy of Runaway Productions, unless otherwise noted. For a full list and documentation of recent programs, visit our online archive.


Contemplation & Action Cards (June 2019)

Caitlin Ferrell, Ashley Clemmer, and I created and designed a series of Contemplation & Action Cards for the CAMH’s Stonewall 50 Exhibition. We gave the cards to visitors for a deeper experience of the exhibition during the CAMH’s Community Celebration during Pride Houston. To view all card prompts, click here.


Toward a Better Future: Transforming the Climate Crisis Symposium (March 2019)

The Rothko Chapel and University of St. Thomas hosted a three day symposium exploring the current climate crisis, its impact on vulnerable communities, and mitigation efforts being implemented locally and nationally.

Given the global interconnectedness of the climate crisis, the symposium explored how best to move to a zero emission, low carbon economy through the engagement of presenters from religious, Indigenous, public health, energy, government, philanthropic, academic and arts sectors and communities. A central focus was on individual and institutional actions, practices and policies that must be taken to create a more livable and equitable future.

Featured Keynote Speaker: Somini Sengupta, The New York Times International Climate Reporter and George Polk Award-winning foreign correspondent

Other presenters included: Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Founder, Host, and Executive Producer of First Voices Indigenous Radio and Member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota; Christie Manning, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Psychology at Macalester College; Umair A. Shah, Executive Director and Local Health Authority for Harris County Public Health Department; Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Marshall Islander poet; Bryan Parras, Co-Founder of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) and Dirty Fuels Gulf Coast Organizer at Sierra Club; Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation in the Pacific Northwest; Jackson Neal, Houston Youth Poet Laureate and National Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador; Nadia Nazar, Co-Founder, Co-Executive Director, and Art Director of Zero Hour; Eve Mosher, artist and creator of the HighWaterLine project; Nick Mullins, former Appalachian coal miner and founder of Breaking Clean, an environmental communication firm working to develop messaging strategies across sociocultural and political divides; Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas; and Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Also included: Multimedia exhibition by Maria Cristina Jadick at Transart Foundation for Art & Anthropology, screening of Not Ok: A Little Movie About a Small Glacier at the End of the World (2018) by Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe, Poet-Tree by WITS.


Dancing on Thin Ice with The Seldoms (January 2019)

Chicago-based company, The Seldoms, shared an excerpt of Floe, a new dance theater work that explores madness, delusion, oil extraction, the vanishing of Arctic ice, and rising sea levels. Floe embodies the fragmentation of our global conversation on climate change as it veers from anti-science conspiracy theories to the very real impacts of global warming on communities from the Gulf Coast to the Arctic Circle. This program was co-presented by DiverseWorks.


World AIDS Day Observance (December 2018)

In commemoration of World AIDS Day, the Rothko Chapel hosted a morning observance to show support and solidarity with the millions of people living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS. This program was offered in partnership with The oH Project: Oral Histories of HIV/AIDS in Houston, Harris County, and Southeast Texas

The morning program included live music, personal testimonials, and guided reflection. Gregory Hamilton, a community educator and advocate working at ASP Cares Pharmacy shared information on the state of the battle against HIV in Houston and Texas. Isis Torrente, member of the Latino HIV Task Force, Greater Houston chapter of the Positive Women's Network, and Ryan White Planning Council spoke on her experience within the HIV community in Houston. Andrew Edmonson, board member of The oH Project, shared information about the oral histories they have been collecting since 2016. Moments of reflection were led by Reverend Diane McGehee, Senior Pastor of Bering Memorial UMC, and music was performed throughout by John Edward Ross on acoustic guitar.


Climate Justice: The Time is Now, The Place is Here (November 2018)

The Rothko Chapel and Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice presented the 4th Annual Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold Endowed Lecture Series in Peace, Social Justice and Human Rights, which honors Sissy for her relentless pursuit of social justice. We celebrated an evening with Elizabeth Yeampierre as she explored how vulnerable communities are both experiencing and responding to the disproportionate effects of climate change.

She drew on the work of climate justice activists in places ranging from Brooklyn and Houston to Puerto Rico to help us consider how we might participate locally in the creation of a more just and equitable society. The lecture was a part of the Rothko Chapel's exploration of human rights issues surrouding climate change, culminating in a three day symposium "Toward a Better Future: Transforming the Climate Crisis," February 28 - March 2, 2019 at the Rothko Chapel and University of St. Thomas.

Photo by Scott Dalton

Photo by Scott Dalton

Open Letters by Mark Menjivar (October 2018)

Open Letters is an ongoing project by artist Mark Menjivar that engages Texas communities in dialogue around capital punishment issues. Participants were invited to respond to letters written by prisoners on death row that speak about their experiences and the trauma they and their families have faced post-conviction. 

This program was presented in conjunction with Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System, an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) featuring work by artists from across the nation that addresses the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the prison-industrial complex. The exhibition is on view August 25, 2018 - January 6, 2019. To learn more about the exhibition, click here


International Day of Peace with Silkroad Ensemble (September 2018)

In observation of International Day of Peace, the Rothko Chapel presented a performance by members of the Silkroad Ensemble, while in residency at Rice University, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Council. Performing artists included: Shawn Conley, bass; Nicholas Cords, viola; Sandeep Das, tabla; Maeve Gilchrist, harp; Kaoru Watanabe, shinobue flutes, taiko.


Immigration and Family Separation Crisis: A Call to Understand, Connect and Act (July 2018)

The Rothko Chapel and Houston Immigration Legal Services partnered to hold a thoughtful, non-partisan community gathering to educate the Houston community on why families are fleeing central America, the resulting separation of families when they arrive to the U.S border, and the issues around family detention and the criminalization of refugees. Program attendees heard first-hand accounts of what is occurring on the border and in Houston area immigration detention centers and learned about actions they can take on the local, state and national level to address this issue. 

Program participants included: Kate Vickery, Executive Director of Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative; Rev. Alejandro Montes, Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo; Anne Chandler, Executive Director of Tahirih Justice Center’s Houston office; Lomi Kriel, Houston Chronicle Reporter; and Dalia Castillo-Granados, American Bar Association Children's Immigration Law Academy (ABA CILA); moderated by Zenobia T. Lai, Legal Director of the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance of Catholic Charities


World Environment Day (June 2018)

In commemoration of World Environment Day, the Rothko Chapel held a Twilight Meditation led by poet Martha Serpas. We united in support of environmental justice around the world.

The paradoxes of water—conceived by death and love—may never have been as obvious as during Hurricane Harvey. Though we live alongside the unpredictable, life-giving, destructive Gulf, last August water was what we sought and what we cursed and wished away. In our meditations, water can be a teacher of receptivity and respect. Through focus on images, sound, walking, and poetry, we can reconnect with the intuitive space that rests amid water’s disparate forms and effects, which are the disparate forms of life itself. -- Martha Serpas

Attendees were invited to bring an image of water, open to their interpretation, to place inside the Chapel upon entering for the meditation. 

In a Moss Garden: The Sounds of Japan (April 2018)

This program explored aspects of traditional Japanese musical aesthetics through newly composed works for Japanese instruments and percussion. Works featured in the program reflected several elements of Japanese culture including Zen Buddhism and haiku and tanka poetry. 

John Lane’s Uji for solo snare drum and spoken text reflected on the teachings of Eihei Dogen, founder of the Soto school of Zen. John Cage’s Ryoanji was a sublime work that musically represents the raked sand and stones of the Ryoanji temple garden in Kyoto. The program concluded with the premiere of a new work by Marty Regan for koto (13-string Japanese zither), shakuhachi (end-blown Japanese bamboo flute), and percussion entitled In a Moss Garden.


International Women’s Day Observance (March 2018)

The theme for International Women’s Day in 2018 was “Press for Progress” – the worldwide campaign called for changing stereotypes, promoting positive visibility of women and celebrating the achievements of women. Responding to this theme and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the Chapel hosted a small display of The Monument Quilt, a quilted collection of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. The Monument Quilt is organized by FORCE, a Baltimore-based activist collective dedicated to upsetting rape culture.

In the evening we hosted a Twilight Meditation facilitated by Claire Villarreal from Dawn Mountain Center for Tibetan Buddhism, along with Shanti Flagg, FORCE's Studio Director, sharing quilting stories from the many woman all over the U.S. who are survivors of sexual and domestic abuse. The display included a space for visitors to contribute their own message to be added to the ongoing project.


2017 Óscar Romero Awards (November 2017)

Rothko Chapel's biennial Óscar Romero Award--named after Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, because of his vocal opposition to the violent oppression of his fellow citizens--has been given every two years since 1987 in recognition of courageous, grassroots human rights advocacy. Building upon the topic of ending mass incarceration addressed at our 2017 Spring Symposium, the Chapel honored two recipients, one internationally and the other locally selected, for this year's recognition.

The international awardee was Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, Executive Director of Association for the Protection of Prisoners and Human Rights in Burundi, east Africa. The local awardee was Kathryn Griffin Griñán, a Recovery Coach & Peer-To-Peer Counselor at Been There, Done That in Houston, Texas. The public award ceremony, included a keynote speech by Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, followed by a reception on the plaza. This ceremony honored both recipients' courage while recognizing the vital importance of their work.  


Summer Solstice Sunrise Observation (June 2017)

We celebrated sunrise on the summer solstice with a labyrinth walk on the Rothko Chapel grounds. Houston labyrinth creator and Rothko Chapel volunteer Jay Stailey constructed a 9-circuit Chartres turf labyrinth on the Chapel grounds. The morning began with an intention setting meditation by Alejandro Chaoul and brief introduction to the history and purpose of the labyrinth by Jay Stailey at sunrise.


Menilfest: walk (May 2017)

The Menil Collection, Houston Center for Photography and Rothko Chapel presented the annual Menilfest community arts festival, a free afternoon of exhibitions, performances, and readings that extended across the Menil neighborhood.

In conjunction with World Labyrinth Day, the artists of Core Performance Company under the artistic direction of Sue Schroeder created a performance work in and around a canvas labyrinth on the Chapel plaza. Walk contemplated the changing nature of the individual within our briskly changing, world with the labyrinth offering the sacred space for this community experience.  


Music in Darkness (May 2017)

Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ hour-long work for twenty-four musicians, in vain (2000), created an unforgettable listening experience performed by Loop38. Just as “the natural light that illuminates the murals...accurately shows the nuances and subtleties of [Rothko’s] color palette” in the Rothko Chapel, the absence of light used in Haas’ in vain created an experience of “waves of opulently strange, beautiful sounds.” With most of the music performed in complete darkness as the performers played from memory, the sounds were liberated and “the focus lies on what is trapped under listening habits.” 

Co-founded by conductor Jerry Hou and pianist Yvonne Chen at the Shepherd School of Music in 2016, chamber ensemble Loop38 is comprised entirely of Houston transplants, bringing their unique musical experiences from all over the world to share with the Houston community. 


adam tendler: piano. (April 2017)

Adam Tendler’s performances at Rothko Chapel have fused musical programming with the physical space to create sonic clearings for reflection. Tendler responds to the Chapel environment by sharing an ambitious program of exquisitely understated music—works that provoke, challenge, thrill, and ultimately move the listener. This program included works by Nico Muhly, Earle Brown, Marina Poleukhina, Charlie Sdraulig, Morton Feldman, and Philip Glass.


An Act of Justice: Undoing the Legacy of Mass Incarceration Symposium (March 2017)

Presented in partnership with the Criminology, Law and Society Department at the University of St. Thomas, Houston

The Rothko Chapel and University of St. Thomas produced a three day symposium exploring the human rights issues associated with the criminal justice system in the United States. We gathered together to learn more about the legacy of this complex system in our country and how individuals and community organizations are working together for equitable and sustainable reform.

The symposium offered workshops, panels and keynote addresses featuring academics, activists, religious leaders, artists, criminal justice reform experts, and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families.

Featured Keynote Speakers: Professor Margaret Burnham, Northeastern University Law School
Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

Other Presenters included: Anthony Graves, activist and Death Row Exoneree 138; Dolores Canales, co-founder of California Families  Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC); Dr. Roberto LaCarra, University of St. Thomas Criminology Department; Nicole Cásarez, University of Houston Law Center/University of St. Thomas; Rev. Ron Stief, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture; State Representative Gene Wu; Charles Rotramel, Houston reVision; Sandra Guerra Thompson, Criminal Justice Institute, University of Houston Law Center; Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas; Mimi Marziani, Texas Civil Rights Project; Jay Jenkins, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and others. 

Also included: A powerful virtual reality experience that places viewers inside a U.S. solitary confinement prison cell presented by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Poetry performed by Writers in the Schools (WITS).


Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration (January 2017)

In honor of the life and work of the Rev. Dr. King, our Annual Celebration began with a ceremony on the plaza to welcome the return of the Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman after a year away for conservation. 

The event included words by Rev. Dr. Marcus Cosby, Wheeler Baptist Church Senior Pastor; Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; a capella performances by Edwina Hubbard; and original poems performed by Jackson Neal, 2016 Meta-four Houston Youth Poetry Slam team member, and Fareena Arefeen, City of Houston's second Youth Poet Laureate, an initiative led by Writers in the Schools, the City of Houston, and the Houston Public Library. After enjoying refreshments during the reception on the plaza, the evening ended in the Chapel with a talk by American commentator, journalist and novelist, Leonard Pitts, Jr.


Twelve Moments: Experiencing Spiritual and Faith Traditions (Recurring Monthly)

Since September 2005, on the first Wednesday of each month from 12-1pm, the Rothko Chapel hosts a meditation or contemplative practice focusing on a different spiritual or faith tradition featuring teachers and religious leaders from throughout the greater Houston community. Twelve Moments series provides opportunities for visitors to learn more about a specific spiritual or faith tradition, and experience a related meditation or contemplative practice, such as prayer, chanting, and more. 

Highlights: New Year's Day Crystal Bowl Meditation (Jan 2017), Reflection & Renewal in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey (Sept 2017), Daoist Tradition (Feb 2018), Islamic Tradition (May 2018), Resilience on the Anniversary of Healing in Community After Hurricane Harvey (Sept 2018)



The Guild Program

The Guild provides invaluable support for daily Chapel operations and events. Guild members welcome guests, orient visitors to the Chapel, assist public programs and private services, and represent the Chapel in offsite community festivals and events.

The Guild maintains about 40 members each year and provides continuing education on topics related to art, spirituality, and human rights.